I've asked our friends to submit their opinion on the Chukchansi matter. Dr. Kenneth Hansen, Ph.D and board member of the MANY LIGHTNINGS INDIAN LEGACY CENTER has one for us:
I am glad to see Fresno-area media now paying attention to an issue that has festered for far too long in California’s Indian Country--the blatant civil rights violations we call disenrollment. It is extremely unfortunate that people had to get hurt before they took note of it, however. Three people are reportedly injured, one with a serious head injury, with another, a 19-year-old security guard, stabbed in the abdomen. The melee that happened at the tribal government offices of the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians, located in the Madera foothills near Coarsegold, CA, was brought on by the Madera County Sheriff not allowing provisions to be brought to those Occupying the offices following the cut-off of electricity and water to the buildings, little more than portable trailers. A reasonable question might be why were they there in the first place?
In recent months we have seen moral clarity brought to bear on Wall Street abuses in the form of the Occupy Movement, which draws distinctions between the excesses of the super-rich versus the rest of us, who generally work hard and pay our taxes. Inherent in the movement’s complaint is the notion that wealth should not entitle certain people to more rights than the rest of us. That is also a problem in Indian Country, where the rich get richer with access to casino-generated benefits, while the vast majority of Indigenous people continue to do without.
Indian gaming was intended to provide self-determination and economic development to Indian Country. Instead, it caused certain people to “go wasichu,” that is, to become like the colonizers we despise from history. Whereas the US government once terminated their trust relationships, that function has now been devolved to the tribal governments themselves, who then disenroll their citizens. Ultimately disenrollment could lead to the same effect as was intended by termination—the assimilation and extinction of Indigenous people.
In tribal governments there are inequities in terms of rights—access to jobs, the ability to participate in community affairs, the right to vote, and equal protection under the law. These are known collectively as civil rights. Everyone has them. The distinction between civil liberties, i.e., speech rights, and the like, is that civil rights must be provided and protected by government. Tribal governments that disenroll their member-citizens have been negligent in protecting the civil rights of their people. The Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968 was passed by the Congress to protect people from their tribal governments, but it has not been enforced by the federal courts (the Cahto ruling being an exception), nor by the BIA.
This brings us back to Chukchansi. The tribal council-in-exile who had won the elections last December in part because they oppose further disenrollments, broke into the tribal government offices early Monday morning, February 27. These Occupiers and their families, a group of some 40 people, were tired of waiting for a BIA decision on the election outcome that never came. The pro-disenrollment faction that refuses to give up power set up shop in the economic development office on the other side of a parking lot, and proceeded to harass the council-in-exile by throwing burning logs, rocks, bricks, tear gas, and the like through the windows of the government offices. One Chukchansi student of mine who was on the scene that night said that Chance Alberta, one of the group that refuses to give up power, had bear spray and bright lights that were used to blind people and intimidate them. It is not surprising that the violence escalated Tuesday morning. Once the melee and stabbing happened, Madera and Fresno County sheriff’s deputies, along with CHP, declared that a peaceable assembly no longer existed and ordered both the Occupiers and the Disenrollers to vacate the area of the government offices. Both groups were subsequently escorted off the Rancheria Tuesday afternoon.
Patrick Hammond, who is the spokesman for the Occupiers (though they don’t call themselves that), and a graduate of the Political Science Department at Fresno State, said that they might be back if the situation is left unresolved. I say they have the right to do so. Radical tactics have become a staple of American Indian politics. They get results. They shine the light of good government to expose the darkness of political corruption. Ultimately, for the Chukchansi legitimacy crisis to be resolved, those 500 or so individuals who have been disenrolled over the past few years need to be readmitted to the tribe, probably by order of a federal court. Then there needs to be another election to decide who governs. It may take further Occupations and demonstrations (as well as litigation) to make that happen. In the event they do occur, the safety and provision of supplies for the Occupiers needs to be guaranteed by law enforcement.
Kenneth N. Hansen, Ph.D. is an associate professor of Political Science at California State University, Fresno, and former co-coordinator of the Africana and American Indian Studies program. He is a board member of the Many Lightnings Indian Legacy Center, a 501(c)3 nonprofit civil rights organization, and a co-editor of the book The New Politics of Indian Gaming (2011, University of Nevada Press).